Idaho could net $51 million to $75 million annually if it convinced the federal government to turn over 16.4 million acres of its land to the state.
That's the conclusion of a quick analysis by the Idaho Department of Lands in response to lawmakers considering demanding a federal public land transfer like Utah has done. The $75 million is based on the revenues that could be returned after a 15-year transition of 7 million acres of forest land that foresters estimated could yield 800 million board feet of timber annually.
Another 9.5 million acres of rangeland were considered, but the agency estimated there would be no profit in it for the state. And, unlike Utah, there is no known oil and gas resources and few minerals on the lands proposed for transfer.
The state also would have to reserve the right to reject any lands that have abandoned mines or other hazardous wastes that could increase the state's financial liability, State Lands Department Director Tom Schultz said in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate resource committees.
Schultz is scheduled to testify next week before a House Resources subcommittee.
The ballpark guess has a number of assumptions and caveats underlying its conclusion.
First, of course, is that the federal government would give in to the questionable legal theory behind the Utah approach.
Second, the many specially protected areas - national monuments, conservation areas, recreation areas, wilderness areas and the like - would be excluded.
So just less than half of the 34.5 million acres of federal land would be transferred.
The federal government paid approximately $195 million to suppress wildfires in Idaho in 2012. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management spent an estimated $275 million to manage their lands in 2012 beyond fire, not counting research.
The analysis predicts firefighting costs for the 16.4 million acres, based on how it fights fires on state lands, would be just $45 million annually. The federal government would still fight fires on the remaining 18.1 million acres of federal land.
The lands would still be open to the public, but the dollar calculus does not take into account the costs of providing trails, campsites and other recreational facilities.
Republican Rep. Judy Boyle, of Midvale, one of the lawmakers supporting the idea, said the analysis shows the state would not be bankrupted by such a plan nor be forced to sell of the land, which she opposes.
"It would still be public land because that makes Idaho, Idaho," she said.
The state also would have to meet most environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, the two laws that have done the most to limit logging and grazing. The state would not have to follow the National Environmental Policy Act.
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